Over the past few days, I have been thinking about description in literature. When does it add to the ambiance and when does it take away from the story? Two years or so ago I picked up Giant by Edna Ferber and was immediately put off by the extensive description of Texas' scenery. By the time the plot began, the only remaining feeling was frustration and I simply couldn't engage in the story. After about 50 pages, I put the story down and to this day I feel annoyed when I think of that book. I had similar feelings when reading Death Comes to the Archbishop by Willa Cather. At the same time, I love Cather's descriptions of the fields of Nebraska found in My Antonia.
"There were no clouds, the sun was going down in a limpid, gold-washed sky. Just as the lower edge of the red disc rested on the high fields against the horizon, a great black figure suddenly appeared on the face of the sun."
I like description when it serves a definite point; when it reveals deeper understanding of the feelings of the hero. When it doesn't further the plot, it should probably be cut to a minimum. I can't be the only person who is really enjoying Ivanhoe, but at the same time wants to hit the editor over the head for allowing so many superfluous descriptions of clothing, jewels, and buildings to go to press. It gets slightly ridiculous at times.
So I'd have to say that I tend to be more annoyed by obvious paragraphs of descriptions than to enjoy them. How do you feel about description; do you skim them or soak in the poetic descriptions of mundane things?